How to encourage your teen in a difficult season

All of us, your teen included, are entitled to have tough days now and then. From academic setbacks and conflicts with friends to just waking up on the wrong side of the bed, no teen is immune to life’s ups and downs. When a simple bad day stretches into hard weeks and difficult months, however, it could be more than just a rough patch. How to recognize when your teen is facing a truly difficult season:

  • A longer-lasting, pervasive bad mood that they just cannot shake:
    More than feeling a little down on occasion, this could indicate depression. This could look like feeling sick often, feeling tired often and struggling to find motivation.
  • Withdrawal from people and activities that used to bring joy:
    “A really troubling sign is when your teen turns away from things that used to be enjoyable and isolating from others,” says Ed Lowder, a therapist at Shelterwood. “Your teen could also be pulling away from friends who used to be close, or frequently wanting to stay home from school.”
  • A sense of hopelessness:
    “Pay attention when your teen is saying that life feels overwhelming or hopeless,” Ed says. Teens in a difficult season can feel that the future is bleak and things are not going to get better, ever.
  • Mentioning the possibility of self-harm:
    “Even if your kid mentions the possibility of self-harm or suicide, intervention needs to happen immediately,” Ed says. Whether you are certain these threats are credible or not, issues like these should not be taken lightly.

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What your teen needs in this season is encouragement and support. “Your child needs to know that you are there for them and that they can depend on you as their root base for safety,” Ed says. How to encourage your teen in a difficult season:

  • Focus on time in, not time out:
    Our initial reaction to troubling behavior might be to punish our teen for a bad attitude or negative actions — but kids facing difficult seasons need more time together with you, not less. Think of it as time in, not time out. “How available have you made yourself to your child? When was the last time the two of you spent time together? When was the last time you had a one-on-one connection?” Ed suggests. “We get caught up in the day-to-day stress of work, managing our home and managing our life and we can forget to deliberately create quality time with our kids.”
  • Look beyond the surface behavior to the needs behind it: “The challenging season may be due to an unmet need,” Ed suggests. “You teen might be feeling not cared for by others, feeling pressure to be perfect, having a difficult time at school, or stressed and in need of a respite.” Bridging the gap between the outward behavior to the inward need shows your teen that you care about their heart.
  • Take an open approach to communication:
    “It is important for your teen to know that you genuinely want to meet them where they are, and you want to work together to get through this time,” Ed says. Instead of dismissing your teen’s struggle, ask, Help me understand. Rather than putting your teen on the spot to fix the problem, say, We can work together on this. Ed recommends a helpful acronym for this kind of communication — LUVER: Listen, Understand, Validate, Empathize and Respond.
  • Express your own vulnerability:
    “Vulnerability can be a very powerful thing for teens and their parents,” Ed says. “Open up with your own experiences. If you faced something similar as a teen, let your own child in on those struggles. If you realize something you wish you had handled differently, sharing that with vulnerability can strengthen your relationship.”

Worried that this is bigger than a challenging season? Concerned that your teen may need a longer-term residential treatment agency program? Shelterwood offers real hope, real heart change and real restoration for struggling teens. Contact us to see if Shelterwood could be a fit for your teen. We are here to help.

World Mental Health Day: How to talk to your teen about mental health

Is talking with your teen about mental health daunting? World Mental Health Day, October 10, is an opportunity to engage with your teen in a meaningful way. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, a staggering one in five children ages 13 – 18 live with a mental health condition. Even if your teen never struggles with mental health, chances are strong that one of their friends may. This is a conversation parents cannot overlook. Explore these five tips to start the conversation about mental health.

1) Choose the right time.

Select an appropriate time to talk with your teen about mental health. Bringing it up right after an argument will not be fruitful. Rather, choose a time when you are both well-rested and calm. Some parents might find it helpful to begin the conversation while you are doing an activity together like driving in the car or cooking dinner. Think of opportunities that will work for you, and then choose your timing wisely. Choosing the right time and setting will help both you and your teen feel comfortable discussing this sensitive subject.

2)  Be genuine.

Before you even begin the conversation with your teen, remember empathy. The adolescent years are a challenging time for teens, as they build their own identities. Be genuine in your concern and love for them as you begin the conversation. Let go of your frustrations and start with an open mind and heart. Feel free to share your own experiences with them, too. When you include yourself in the conversation, it shifts from lecture to discussion.

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3) Ask questions and listen.

Ask your teen how they have been doing lately. Give them space to speak. Be quick to listen as they share their emotions with you. Be careful not to trivialize their feelings or experiences. Your teen opening up is an important first step in the journey to healing.

4) Share concern for your teen.

If you have noticed signs that your son or daughter may be struggling with a mental health problem, share observations that you’ve seen in your teen’s behavior. Frame these as “I” observations rather than “you” statements. For example, you might share, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been feeling very stressed about school lately. How have you been feeling?” For a list of mental health signs and symptoms, learn more here.

5) Continue the conversation.

Do not let the discussion begin and end on October 10. Make mental health an ongoing conversation with your teen. The more normal the conversations become, the easier it is for your teen to get help. Remind your teen that even when they struggle, you are there to support them — no matter what. Your teen has an advocate in you, and they are not alone. This builds trust between you and your teen.

If you observe mental health issues in your teen including depression, suicidal thoughts, drug abuse, alcohol use or others, reach out for help. Consider Shelterwood Residential Treatment Agency while you explore options that will be best for your family. Shelterwood Residential Treatment Agency recognizes that every teen’s needs are unique. Our relationship-based approach to treatment wraps teens in love when they are at their worst. At Shelterwood, we see the decision to enroll your child in a residential treatment agency as a new beginning and a chance for lasting change. Give us a call. We would love to answer all of your questions: (866) 585-8939.

Why does my kid shoplift?

Teen shoplifting is more common than you might think — but when you find out that your own teen shoplifts, it can be a very scary moment for you and your family. It is natural to feel angry, surprised, worried and curious: why is my teen shoplifting?

Before you respond, take some time to reflect on why your teen may have started shoplifting in the first place. Remember that most people like to get something for nothing – a bargain, a discount, a freebie. However, those people who actually resort to stealing are often “crying for help.” The shoplifting behavior may be a symptom of something deeper. Some underlying reasons your teen may have resorted to stealing:

  • Depression or anxiety – Your teen may be seeking a distraction from sadness, and shoplifting is a way to get a lift. Your teen may be seeking comfort to calm his or her fears in life.
  • Acceptance and competition – Of kids who shoplift, 89% know other kids who shoplift. Your teen may be pressured and want to fit in with their friend group.
  • Power and control – To counteract feeling lost or powerless, your teen may be trying to shoplift to feel in control.
  • Boredom and excitement – Your teen may be wanting to live life on the edge.
  • Entitlement and reward – Your teen may feel he or she is indestructible and at the center of the world. Shoplifting is a way to express this authority.
  • Shame and low self-esteem – If your child struggles with self-esteem, he or she may be stealing to create a reason to feel successful at something, even if that success occurs in a negative context like stealing.
  • Rebellion and initiation – Teens are constantly searching for their unique identities. Shoplifting may be his or her way to break into an “authentic” identity they want.

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How to respond to your teen shoplifting

When you discover your teen has shoplifted, there are often two responses that do not work well: letting it slide or over-reacting. Instead of these responses, take this opportunity to initiate a conversation. Remember to start the discussion when you are calm and are in a safe space with your child, like driving in the car.

  • Initiate conversation: If your child is shoplifting, use this opportunity to engage your child in a conversation. Rather than ignoring the behavior or overreacting to it with guilt and shame, genuinely connect to discover how your child is doing. We all like to learn about ourselves and uncover unrealized motivations; teens are no different. Addressing the behavior at this deeper level limits the wrestling match of deception and investigation. Ask questions, and seek to listen first.
  • Discuss the law: If your child has been caught shoplifting, you may want to hire a lawyer, but ensure that your child understands they are not off the hook. Explain that they are fully responsible for breaking the law and must accept the consequences.
  • Return the items: If you have caught your teen yourself, call the store’s loss-prevention department before returning the items. Your child should return the items to the store if they have not done so already, and write a letter of apology to the manager.

Moving forward, create opportunities to partner with your teen. Help them locate the emotional hurt from within and find necessary help for the underlying issues. Engaging with your teen today can help set them free for a lifetime.

Concerned about your teen’s behavior? Shelterwood Residential Treatment Agency offers real hope, real heart change and real restoration for struggling teens. Contact us to see if Shelterwood could be a fit for your teen.